By Josh Naso (@JoshNaso)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2022-23 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
The 2021-22 season was one of change for the Friends’ Central girls’ basketball team. That’s a theme that will carry over to the 2022-23 squad as it looks to improve on last year’s third place finish in the Friends Schools League.
The change began with the departure of longtime head coach Phil Annas midway through the 2021-22 season. Vinny Simpson, who had been assisting with the boy’s program at Friends’ Central, replaced Annas and immediately started tinkering with the dynamics of the program, leading the Phoenix to an 8-7 record down the stretch. Overall, the team finished 15-10 with a 7-3 mark in the FSL.
Sophomore forward Logyn Greer could be an X-factor for FCS this season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The change will continue this season as the Phoenix will rely heavily on a quintet of sophomores to contribute as they aim to build on last season. While Simpson has high hopes for each member of that group, one in particular could determine just how far the team can go: Logyn Greer.
Greer, a 6-3 forward, already holds a handful of D1 offers. While still a raw prospect, the potential is tantalizing. Greer played just a handful of varsity minutes under Annas, but Simpson, recognizing her potential and wanting to accelerate her development, inserted her into the starting lineup in his first game at the helm. In addition to the obvious ability to be a factor on the boards and a disruptive piece defensively, Greer can get to the basket and has flashed range that can extend to the 3-point line.
Developing as a three-level scorer and becoming more vocal are points of emphasis as she enters her sophomore season. Refining her offensive game and finding her assertiveness will be keys for Greer, but it’s easy to see the reasons for excitement.
“My big, key player I think can get us there is Logyn,” Simpson said. “Defensively good, can get to the hole, she can do it all.”
Joining Greer in that key group of sophomores are Nal’la Bennett, Kaiya Rain Tucker, Jordyn Adderly and Sydney Williams.
Bennett and Tucker are transfers, the former coming over from Timber Creek (N.J.) and the latter from Franklin Towne Charter of the Public League.
Bennett is a 5-8 guard who has displayed a knack for scoring in her young career, averaging 20 points per game as a freshman. That scoring prowess will be important for the Phoenix this year, but perhaps more important will be the work of transitioning her from a pure scorer into a scoring point guard. Part of that transition will involve learning the pick-and-roll game and knowing when to get teammates involved versus getting her own shot. Having gone through a similar transition in his own career, Simpson is confident Bennett will be able to make the adjustment.
“The good thing about this is I was in her shoes, I was just a shooter/scorer and transitioned into a point guard, so I got a little bit of knowledge of transitioning to a point guard,” Simpson said. “I’m just gonna try to drop that on her as soon as possible.”
Tucker, meanwhile, is a Swiss army knife type player who will do a little bit of everything for the Phoenix as a 6-0 forward. She’s a vacuum cleaner on the class and has a knack for getting to the line, where she is capable of converting a high percentage of her opportunities. Tucker plays with a fearlessness that belies her age and should be able to help set the tone for the Phoenix this year.
Adderly, a 5-10 wing, is expected to be the first person off the bench for the Phoenix this season. Possessing a pure shooting stroke, she has the skills to produce instant offense. Adding to her value is her versatility, and Simpson expects her to get minutes at the two, three and four throughout the year. Quick hands allow her to be disruptive on defense, a nice compliment to her offensive capabilities.
“She can do it all,” Simpson said. “She’s gonna be a glue person.”
FCS coach Vinny Simpson is hoping senior guard Sana’a Garrett, above, can be more vocal this season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
While the sophomore group will need to produce for Friends Central to compete atop the FSL, coach Simpson isn’t devoid of senior leadership. Cousins Sana’a Garrett and Amani Savage are ready to take the leadership reins. Simpson is more than comfortable with the duo leading his team, calling Savage a “natural-born leader” and noting that a lot of the girls look up to Garrett. There is one area he’d like to see improvement in from Garrett, and he has taken some extra steps to drive the point home.
“I told her to just be a little more vocal,” Simpson said. “I’ve taken her to a couple of college practices, and she’s seen what the point guards’ been doing and how much the point guards talk, so she’s starting to understand it.”
The 5-8 Garrett fills a coveted role for high school programs as a senior point guard. She sets the tone with her defense, and her ability to get deflections and steals leads to a lot of easy offense for the Phoenix. With a young team that might not fully understand the importance of the defensive end of the floor, having Garrett leading by example at that end could be invaluable. She will be leaned upon for as many minutes as she can handle.
“I don’t plan on sitting her,” Simpson joked when asked about who would shoulder ball handling duties when Garrett sits. When she does need a rest, Simpson noted that Bennett or Williams will likely handle the ball for the Phoenix.
Savage, meanwhile, will serve as team captain for the second consecutive season. Not afraid to do the dirty work, she’s a strong rebounder and smart screener as a 6-0 forward. She does a good job facilitating from the forward position and can be a weapon orchestrating from the high post, either by finding a cutting teammate or working a high/low game. Savage keeps the ball moving, and when she doesn’t have the ball, she does a great job communicating, keeping things organized and making sure the ball gets to the right place.
“I’m not a guard, but I do see certain things and I see where everything is, so I try to highlight that,” Savage said. “Just trying to get everybody into the game.”
Friends’ Central got its first opportunity to see all the new pieces integrated into game action at a preseason showcase event in early October. The uncertainty was on Savage’s mind as the Phoenix prepared to take the court.
“I was so nervous,” Savage said. “It’s just been me and my cousin, we played together for a while, so we had a good chemistry. Then we had like four new people so it’s like ‘well how are we gonna play with them?’”
The returns were encouraging, particularly on the defensive end where it can be especially difficult for new teammates to gel. Simpson mixed up his defenses, switching between man-to-man and zone and tossing in some press. The girls executed well, preventing opponents from getting into any kind of offensive rhythm.
As the intense defense stymied the opposition and helped the Phoenix generate easy offense, any tension or hesitancy melted away and the team got into a flow, looking more like a team that had been through years of battles together rather than one integrating five new pieces for the first time. That should only improve with time, something that is a scary prospect for the rest of the FSL.
Despite the strong showing, Simpson knows his team has a journey ahead of it and will experience growing pains and bumps along the way. To combat any potential frustration on the girls’ part during the inevitable hiccups, Simpson is preaching patience, a long-term mindset and keeping the game fun.
“This is a young team, so I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I expect the effort to always be there,” Simpson said. “I expect mistakes. So, don’t be down on yourself. Telling them to be patient. That’s what I’ve been focusing on, getting them to love the game again, enjoy it, play with happiness, don’t get down, keep your head up.”
While uncertainty will remain until this team gets some games under its belt, there’s a clear sense of optimism after the team’s first taste of game action.
“It went really well,” Savage said. “I was surprised, and I was like ‘okay we’re gonna be good. I feel really confident.”